Strategies for staying motivated while uncluttering and organizing

We finally moved all of our large furniture that had been in our our old home for staging into our new home. We reached the point where living out of boxes and feeling like temporary residents in our new home had become tiresome and frustrating, so we called in movers and got the job done.

Although the stuff came in on Saturday, we still aren’t finished unpacking all the boxes. In fact, our living room looks more cluttered now than it did last week when boxes lined the walls. As is often the case with projects like moving and uncluttering, things can be incredibly messy while doing the work.

We’re trying our hardest to keep our attention focused on how wonderful everything will look and feel when it’s put away in its proper storage space. But, I have to admit, our motivation has been waning. It feels like we need as much enthusiasm to tackle the last quarter of work as it did for the previous three-quarters.

To stay focused, we’ve become each other’s biggest cheerleaders. There have been a lot of “good jobs” and “great work” comments exchanged over the past couple days. But, we’ve acknowledged that the time might come when we need to use more rigorous techniques to keep us on task. These are the motivation strategies we may have to use as the week continues:

  • Turn off the power. If checking email, watching television, playing a computer game, or talking on the phone can keep you from doing work, power down these devices before getting started uncluttering or organizing. Based on your level of temptation you may need to unplug the device from the wall, flip a switch on the circuit breaker, or simply hit the power button. You know yourself best, so do what you need to do.
  • Hide temptations. In college, my friend Clark would appear at my door a week before finals were to begin with a box full of distractions. Inside the box would be video games, books he had been reading, his gym pass, and other items he could use to procrastinate. I’m pretty sure one year he also gave me his vacuum. You might not need to physically remove temptations from your home, but boxing them up and putting them in your basement, garage, or someplace out of the way might be a good idea for you.
  • Have an accountability partner. Ask a friend to come over to help keep you on task. This friend doesn’t need to lift a finger, this friend only needs to sit and keep you company while you work. I don’t know how it helps, but it does. Return the favor when your friend needs an accountability partner to help stay on task.
  • Invite guests over to your home. Scheduling a time when people will come into your home can be a strong motivator to get the work finished by a specific date and time.

There are hundreds of ways to stay motivated while you unclutter and organize. These are just the techniques we have on deck. What methods work for you? Share your strategies in the comments.

27 Comments for “Strategies for staying motivated while uncluttering and organizing”

  1. posted by Sinea on

    Erin, you are so right. Electronic distractions must be neutralized before decluttering! If only the OTHER distractions (like getting caught up looking at old photos you run across, etc) would go away too. Sometimes I have to talk to myself. “Don’t get sidertracked, Sinea. FOCUS!”

  2. posted by Milk Donor Mama on

    Okay, so how do you do this with kids and a reluctant husband?! My kids (4yo, 10mo) need nearly constant attention and supervision. If I tried to spend 15 minutes in my kitchen cleaning up or organizing with them playing in the family room (out of sight), I would likely soon be hearing crying or walk in to find my daughter colored herself with the markers (again) or the wall (again) or the baby getting into the cat bowl, etc, etc.

  3. posted by Rachel on

    Accountability partner! That’s what you call it! My best friend and I have been doing this for years with regard to heavy cleaning. We pick a weekend and spend one day at my place, one day at hers. It’s really fun to spend a day at her place, just sitting on the couch and knitting, knowing that (however it works, and it really does) I’m helping her get her stuff done, and that I will have/have had my own day to get a bunch of stuff done too. It also helps that we agree not to judge one another about how cluttered/messy anything is.

  4. posted by Jenna on

    Great tips! Company ALWAYS gets me motivated to clean the house!

    Human distractions are also important to note. Not that you need to get rid of your husband or children! But, if they distract you from a big organizing project, maybe he can take the kids to the park, or hire a sitter for an hour or two to watch the kids while you work, uninterrupted. I find I’m most productive when my boyfriend is out of the house, or if we’re both cleaning together. (We like to turn on some upbeat music!)

  5. posted by Matt P on

    When we moved, our dog stayed with friends. Then they brought him a week later and stayed for a visit, so we were forced to finish unpacking as much as possible. They helped us hang pictures too!

  6. posted by Anita on

    When I start cleaning or decluttering, I usually have either a music playlist or put on a DVD that I’ve seen a million times. Oddly enough, the background noise keeps my mind from wandering and getting side-tracked, and the fact that I know what’s playing by heart means I don’t need to really pay attention to it. It also gives me a vague notion of time, which can help.

  7. posted by Amy on

    Haha, some great suggestions! I often find myself being that accountability partner.. but often end up doing most of the work as I actually enjoy it!! And your friend Clark made me laugh- i know a lot of people that should employ his tactics!!

  8. posted by Cindi on

    @ Mama and other Moms of young children
    I have a couple of suggestions, please don’t take as criticism, just trying to spur your creativity:
    1) work while the baby is napping – put your pre-schooler at the kitchen table to colour, or have her “wipe cabinets”, “organize” fridge magnets, “sweep” the floor, something, anything…
    2) work while your 4yr-old is at pre-school or play-date and baby in playpen or highchair snacking
    3) work quickly and focused for only 15 minutes at a time, really-set the timer, and congratulate yourself for getting that much done.
    Good luck! πŸ™‚

  9. posted by Rae on

    Having won my victory over hoarding, I’m helping a friend with her decluttering journey. She says that her best motivator is my voice in her head saying “Does XXX fit my vision for my dream life?” If it doesn’t, out it goes.

  10. posted by Lynda on

    have you connected the music playing device and put on something upbeat??

  11. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Milk — I give my son, who is 22 months old, small chores to do while my husband and I work. He might be responsible for sweeping the floor (playing with the broom), picking up items and putting them in a container (and then he usually gets them out again, but then will put them back), or dusting (carrying a towel around). He’s a resident of this house, not a guest, so he is responsible for its upkeep the same as my husband and I are (with age appropriate chores, of course). As he gets older, his skills will improve and he’ll be more helpful than he is now. Your 4 and 10 year olds should most certainly be helpful at this point in their lives. If they’re not, train them how to do chores. Supervise their efforts as they’re learning (don’t do the chore for them) and eventually they’ll be able to handle their age-appropriate chores on their own.

    As far as coloring on walls, you should get rid of any crayons and markers that aren’t washable. So, when your child does make errant marks, it won’t take him/her much effort to clean it off. (And, yes, your child should be cleaning up after her/himself whenever a mess is made.) If your children get into the pet’s food bowls, move the food bowls to a location out of reach of your child. If that isn’t something you wish to do, at the very least your child needs to pick up the mess he/she makes when after happens.

    One reader said it wonderfully: Healthy children are perfectly capable of doing chores, even if the chores aren’t yet perfectly done. Your 10 year old can be doing his/her laundry, making the bed every day, cleaning his/her bedroom each evening, setting and clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, picking up his/her messes, packing lunches, maybe mowing the lawn (this will depend on the safety of your mower). With supervision, your 4 year old can sweep the dining room floor after meals, vacuum the living room, pick up his/her messes, make the bed every day, and put away clothes.

  12. posted by Vanessa H. on

    Yes, I don’t know how that works, but just having someone present can help you get unstuck! I read somewhere that some organizers will do that for you; it’s some sort of psychological thing. Very cool!

  13. posted by Katie Alender on

    Ha ha, at first I thought you meant Clark was bringing those things over to distract you. He didn’t sound like a very good friend. (Then I figured it out.)

    Listening to a really great audiobook is a wonderful way to keep yourself from getting sidetracked while cleaning or organizing. You won’t be tempted to just sit down and listen, because just listening to an audiobook without some sort of tactile occupation is really boring. At the same time, you won’t get drawn into stopping and thinking about something else, because your mind is occupied with the book (unlike with music).

    One caution: don’t handle staticky laundry with earbuds in. I shocked my ears that way!

  14. posted by Jacquie on

    I am soooooo glad that “staging” isn’t part of UK house selling culture, so when we move all the furniture goes too, even if the old house isn’t sold yet.

    Had to laugh at the thought of Milk Donor Mama’s 10 month old doing the laundry and making beds. I think it’s because she has two young toddlers/babies and a not helpful DH that she is looking for advice.

  15. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Milk — HA!! Thanks to @Jacquie I just realized you typed 10 MONTH old. Ha ha ha ha!! I definitely read that wrong!! Yes, please ignore my advice for your 10 month old to do the mowing πŸ˜‰

  16. posted by jbeany on

    My technique to keep from procrastinating while unpacking was a really simple one – I scheduled a housewarming party for a week after my move in date. My entire place was unpacked and decorated before everyone arrived for dinner. I didn’t sleep much, but I got it all done!

  17. posted by J3SS1C4 on

    I like these ideas! I moved in with my partner in September, and I kind of wish we moved into a seperate place rather than his apartment, because moving my house set up in to his already established place has lead to duplicates of everything… It is so much easier to deal with it when moving into a completely new place!!

    We also have an appartment with very little storage, and rent rooms out to another couple, so its hard to get it organised, but I’m slowly getting there. He travels alot for work, and when he’s gone, I get alot done. I now how one section in the lounge that is in crates, soon to move to my craft room corner which is also a storage room, and once I get my bookshelf, the craftroom will be done too, and the tools go to the garage, and that’s it!!! It’s been a long time coming, but it feels so good to be nearing the end πŸ™‚

  18. posted by Karen Newbie on

    A few adages really prove true:

    Slow and steady wins the race – don’t try to do too much too quickly

    One box at a time/One room at a time – allows you to focus so if you need to stop, you’re not spread out all over the house

    Divide and conquer – Split the work between the available adults. You take a room, the other person takes a room. If you don’t like how the other person set things up, you can adjust after the boxes are empty and out of the way. Otherwise, you run the risk of bickering over where to put the bric-a-brac when you are mid-box and coming to an impasse.

    Schedule breaks – for water, food, and biological urges, whatever they might be. This isn’t a marathon race (unless you have company coming in an hour), so make sure you take care of yourself(ves) along the way.

    Make a game out of it – Pretend you’re setting up a celebrity’s house, or are getting ready for a photo shoot for a magazine spread. Your best unclutterer ideas and strategies might make an improved look in your new digs.

  19. posted by Susie on

    I thought I was the only one who needed an “accountability partner.” I never knew what to call it. Hooray! It has a name!

  20. posted by Daniel M. Wood on

    We have noticed that having guests over really puts a fire under you and gets you cleaning up at once.
    It all takes some focused work but if you work quickly you could watch TV afterwards.

  21. posted by Barbara on

    I used to move every 2 – 3 years to a different country (job related) and had all our belongings moved with us. My trick was to have the moving company put everything back into the shelfs and cuppoards so they could remove all the boxes and packaging material. Then I had enough time later on to do my personal organizing at a later point in time without living in a mess for weeks. That way it did not matter if my books have been organized by themes or if my t-shirts and my socks haven’t been organized by color, or the Lego was in the same drawer as the Polly Pocket stuff. (yes, I am like that)

  22. posted by lisa on

    Milk donor Mama: Be patient, your house will be messy when you have two small ones, but it gets better! Get out of the house and have fun with your kids while they are little, meet friends for coffee and a playground visit, instead of at your home if your home’s condition is stressing you. The same 2 yr old tyrant who smeared fireplace ashes over the carpet, and penciled over all the walls and furniture now has a spotless room which he dusts regularly, and makes his bed every day. (I don’t). I certainly never would have guessed that destructive toddler would have become a neat and tidy 15 yr old.
    It will all get better, sooner than you think possible.

  23. posted by Jillian on

    Setting a timer and working in 15 minute increments works best for me. A timer helps me as it’s my Accountability Partner. Since I’m only working 15 minutes in an area, I work faster (as a challenge to myself anyway ‘cuz I want to get it done). I work 15 minutes in area 1, timer rings, work 15 minutes in area 2, timer rings, work 15 minutes in area 3, timer rings, take a 15 minute break. After break I restart with area 1, if necessary, etc. In my experience, I can do most anything in 15 minute increments without getting too distracted or overwhelmed. Plus I’m STILL very surprised in what I can accomplish in 15 minutes.

  24. posted by kit on

    When my son & his wife moved with their 2 toddlers to their new apt. they knew they would have little or no time to unpack, due to caring for 2 small children and both working full time jobs, so they designated their dining room as Ground Zero for boxes. All the boxes, bags and containers were put into this area, and whenever they had a day off, or some free time, they would take 1 box and unpack it. Coming home every day and looking at the stack of boxes motivated them to try to get 1 unpacked each day. By the time we visited them a few months later, all of the boxes were unpacked, all of the pictures were hung, and everything they no longer wanted or needed was sold, given away or donated. It will take time, but it can be done. Slow and steady wins the race! Don’t beat yourself up over this, Milk Donor Mama. Your husband might be overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that needs to be done. 1 box at a time is all you need to do.

  25. posted by Rachel on

    I regularly have people come over to my apartment in large part because it forces me to keep this place clean. Last weekend, I got my plans mixed up and thought my friend was bringing her mother by so I whipped this place into shape in half an hour. As it turns out we were meeting somewhere else, but I was happy I got rid of the clutter that had started to accumulate.

  26. posted by Natalie in West Oz on

    When we were building our current house we lived in a tiny apartment with a lot of our stuff in storage. On the day we moved, I got the movers to put all our stuff in the garage. I sorted each and every box and only brought into the house those things that I wanted in it. Our lold house was green/yellow themed and the new one was burgundy/blue so it was very helpful to look at things in the garage and go “no, no. no…yes”. I gave away wedding presents that hadnt been opened in 7 years and anything that I couldnt see fitting into the new house. I have never regretted doing that.

  27. posted by Firesheep67 on

    The poster with two children has a 4 year old and a 10 MONTH old. She might have been a bit put off when you suggested that one of her children was certainly old enough to pitch in!

    I wholeheartedly endorse the accountability partner for going to the laundromat. My husband dutifully sits there, while I do the laundry. I’m very picky about how the laundry is done, so I actually don’t want him loading the washers or folding the clothes, and he understands πŸ™‚

    Strangely enough, for me the reverse is true when it comes to tackling long-standing clutter. I prefer to do this when he’s out of the house, and unfortunately, when I’m home, he ALWAYS wants to stay home with me. It’s hard for him to endorse or understand that for me going through my clutter is a very personal task that I don’t want to be observed doing. On the odd occasion when he leaves me home alone, returns to find that I’ve finally unpacked a box or thrown something out, he still doesn’t get the connection. I’ve actually told him (in so many words), but he gets somewhat offended and thinks I’m telling him I don’t want to be around him. Still trying to figure this out!

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